Thursday, January 10, 2013

Pruning Shrubs Can Be Easy

The easiest and best way to deal with an ugly or too-large shrub is to cut it to the ground.  It will do one of two things:  die, or grow back young and pretty.  Either is an improvement.
Don’t expect it to die; this is very rare, unless it is an evergreen conifer, like an arborvitae or juniper.  If you cut all the green off an evergreen conifer, it will die; it has no storage in its roots.   This can be a good thing.
If you cut a deciduous shrub to the ground in mid-summer, it may come back very small, as its roots are emptiest at that time.  If you cut it to the ground in mid-winter to early spring, it will come roaring back, as its roots are full of food at that time.  If you cut it to the ground right after blooming, no matter what time of year, it will come back smaller than otherwise, as a plant expends a lot of energy in blooming.
If you cut a broadleaf evergreen, like a rhododendron, to the ground in midsummer, it will grow back; its roots are full of energy because it hasn’t been living off root storage all spring, putting on growth, like the deciduous shrubs, but it has more root storage than a conifer.  If you cut one to the ground in spring or right after bloom, it may disappear entirely; blooming takes a lot of energy, and its root storage runs low in winter and early spring.
Sometimes a large shrub is simply growing into the way and you don’t want to cut it down.  Chopping off the branch at the point where it begins to get in the way will ruin its form and have it growing right back into your way.  Cut the branch off at its base--or as far back into the shrub as you can reach, if it’s a thick evergreen conifer. 
Some people insist in hedging, which is high-maintenance in the fast-growing shrubs that are chosen for most hedges; they must be trimmed several times through the growing season.  Slower-growing shrubs, like camellia and azalea, can be trimmed once a year and preserve their shape.
Hedge trimmers give a plant a haircut, but it’s a bad haircut, with cut ends and leaves sticking out all over.  The shrub also immediately grows out from the buds below those cut ends and need trimming again.  It is better to prune the twigs that stick out too far one at a time, longest first, cutting them back to their bases or even below, down to the next twig, eliminating the clusters of branch bases that build up in the top of most hedged shrubs and catch falling leaves and other debris.  It won’t be as tight as a hedge given a haircut, but it will look prettier, be healthier, and go longer between trimmings.

Published at under The Natural Gardener #4.

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